Small businesses speeding up move into digital space
The pandemic has accelerated the move to digital among small businesses, as hawkers and retailers scramble to get online to stay afloat during the circuit breaker period, panellists at a webinar said yesterday.
Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, president of the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS) said: "Many bricks-and-mortar businesses... have been disrupted during this period, but we also see this trend of business being done in the digital space instead.
"We have seen in the last few weeks that many traditional food and beverage businesses, and even hawkers, rush to go online and create a presence."
He said that even residents in heartland areas search online before going out to buy products, and make enquiries over social media channels such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat noted that while online platforms will not replace physical shops, there will be fewer bricks-and-mortar outlets, and they will shift towards providing an experience for the customer rather than just transactions.
He added that the shift to online sales began even before this crisis, but the restrictions imposed to contain the virus will speed up this transformation.
He said: "Online (channels) will play an increasingly important role going forward, especially for retail shops that can serve customers that way.
"But they may still want to retain physical stores...There are customers who want to try products, ask questions or customise some items.
"The need for businesses to maintain many shopfronts will be (reduced), but they will establish more online sales capabilities, back-end logistics, delivery, e-payment and data security to ensure customer data is safe."
Mr Chee added that some services, such as haircuts, will still require physical interaction, and that heartland shops will cater to the needs of elderly residents, who prefer to visit physical establishments.
But companies should not delay their digitalisation, or they risk being overtaken by competition, he warned.
"This crisis will accelerate the process of differentiating enterprises who will survive and those who will not," he said at the event, held by Nanyang Polytechnic's Singapore Institute of Retail Studies.
"Previously, we focused on adopting technology to improve productivity, reduce labour reliance and enhance customer service. These are still relevant.
"But the Covid-19 pandemic has added one more priority - using technology to enable businesses to operate safely while accessing new sources of revenue and finding new ways of serving their customers."
Initiatives like the retail e-commerce booster package launched on April 1 aim to help retailers use online platforms to reach customers, while the SMEs Go Digital programme provides a suite of solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises.